Our economic well being is tied into the injustice of the world and there is even less we can do about it this autumn than before.
The perfect illustration was the Archbishop of Canterbury being tripped up by Wonga. He spoke out against its exploitation of those driven to depend on its loans and then had the embarrassment of the revelation that the Church of England owned a little bit of it via a small holding held by an investment fund. Part of my pension was being secured by Wonga’s profiting from the vulnerable.
From the international level (the preservation of our nation’s share of global resources by the protection of our borders from mass migration) to the tiny details of my clothing (the slave-like conditions in which much cotton thread is produced), I keep getting reminded this month that my economic well being is tied into the injustice of the world.
Of course, at an individual level, there are ethical funds which try to help investors steer clear of whole areas of investment from pay-day lenders to the arms trade, and there are personal boycott and Fair Trade decisions which individuals can seek to make to avoid some of the most obvious compromises, but the net of Wonga-like ambiguities and complexities still manages to enmesh us all.
But at the local level, I am helpless in making some ethical choices if the local authority doesn’t make these particular ones for me. So this month’s government adjustments to things like local authority’s discretion in procurement and investments (that is - the outlawing of local authority’s previous ability to chose to avoid contracts or investments on ethical grounds - those who are involved in anything from the arms trade to settlements in Palestine are the cited examples) is fundamentally disabling. Reminding people about the impact of boycotts of South African goods in the past doesn’t make any difference.
And at the national level, I am helpless in making some ethical choices if the government doesn’t make these particular ones for me. So this month’s admission to the Common’s Foreign Affairs Committee by the Foreign Office's Permanent Secretary that increasing exports (our economic well being) is now a greater priority and that protecting human rights (the tackling of global injustice) has less of the ‘profile it did in the past’ is equally disabling. Holding up a placard saying ‘Not in my name’ hardly makes a difference either.
Having a Conservative government for the first time in eighteen years was always going to make a legitimate difference to our political landscape, but I hadn’t expected it so quickly to make a difference to my ability to balance my economic self interest against my ethical choices. And for it all to happen just as, in one of the cited areas, violence in Israel and Palestine opens up again self reinforcing each sides’ justification for its action is heart breaking.